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<nettime> Six Anti-Theses on WikiLeaks
Faculty of the College of Ontopoetic Machines on Sat, 11 Dec 2010 12:32:24 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Six Anti-Theses on WikiLeaks


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Six Anti-Theses on WikiLeaks

Following "Twelve theses on WikiLeaks" by Geert Lovink & Patrice Riemens


1. Wikileaks exposes the slippery moralism of global capital.

The corporate abdication of non-discrimination prefigures more
scrutiny of online activity. Visa, Amazon, Mastercard, Tableau,
PayPal, PostFinance, and EveryDNS: each severed their relationship
with one or more aspects of the WikiLeaks organization due to
technicalities. None were served with legal documents requiring
that they stop supporting "illegal" activity; rather, some caved
due to vague public and private requests by functionaries within
US government offices. Yet, these business have no moral qualms as
to provide similar services to the Ku Klux clan, homophobic sites
and just about anything else. As to the decision to cut Wikileaks
off they justified their actions via the legalese of their Terms of
Service (ToS) or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), contracts that we all
accept as the necessary evil of using free services online. AUPs,
once the interest of legal scholars or small actors who fell afoul
of them, now become the prime means for ending of services to the
undesirable. (Recall, for example, Facebooks' threat of legal action
against the seppukoo project. This is a refrain that continues to
haunt the online space; however it was never seen with such vehemence
as with WikiLeaks.) Yet in a truism, this does not only eliminate the
possibility of online activity, for the actions of Visa, Mastercard,
and PayPal prevent the flow of electronic currency to WikiLeaks,
requiring the organization to ask for either bank transfers (that
are prohibitively expensive for people in the US) or paper money
orders sent to a physical address. These actions by financial
institutions foreground the linkage between online activities and
their real reliance on forms of money that are still tied to large
corporations. As well, the use of contractual language to engage in
corporate censorship enables what is prohibited by US Constitutional
guarantees, among other legal safeguards elsewhere in the world.
Given the tiered nature of the internet---in that a hosting provider
purchases bandwidth from a separate company, that probably purchases
DNS service from a separate company---means that any activity can be
forced offline by any intermediary if found to be in violation of
the ToS. While you may have legal recourse via a civil suit, such an
undertaking is oftentimes impossible due to the legal costs involved
and the vastly unequal power differential.

2. Wikileaks draws on the tense affair between the antiauthoritarian
ethos of hacker culture and the authoritarian logic of capital, also
known as neoliberalism.

WikiLeaks found a characteristically computational way around their
hosting problems, drawing on an unorganized group of volunteers to
provide mirrors of the site (http://wikileaks.ch/mirrors.html). This
strategy of providing mirrors for content hearkens back to 1990s
internet culture, where the practice of setting up FTP mirrors was
commonplace (hacker culture itself is situated in the 1940s, see
Steven Levy). Mirroring mitigates the impact of corporate censorship
somewhat, but is likely to be impractical on a large scale in the
long-term, especially for all of the worthwhile projects that can be
removed by intermediaries. Nevertheless, this example of mirroring is
an interesting case of hackers relaxing their security mindset for
what they perceive as a greater good. Setting up a WikiLeaks mirror
requires the administrator to allow a member of WikiLeaks remote
access to their server in order to upload new files as needed; this
is made possible using public-key encryption techniques, the focus
of much hacker attention in the 1990s. Usually system administrators
would never open their servers for unknown people to upload files.
But there seems to be a belief here that the sysadmins of WikiLeaks,
whomever they are, will not abuse their power and will only upload
what they say they will upload. There is something here that deserves
greater scrutiny, especially in light of what Mathieu O'Neil calls
"hacker charismatic authority". Most studies consider this as a form
of authority _over_ people; in this case, however, the authority is
exercised _amongst_ sysadmins, enabling them to open their machines to
the unknown WikiLeaks administrators.

3. Wikileaks shows that any system is vulnerable to infiltration.

WikiLeaks is highly collaborative, and not only as a result of the
recent mirroring activity. Indeed, the project is only possible due
to their collaboration with the individuals and groups providing
the content to be leaked. Throughout the recent consternation over
"Cablegate", the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who
have put their lives on the line to pass documents to WikiLeaks have
unfortunately been forgotten, Bradley Manning excluded. To ignore
these people is to make a grave analytical error. Be thankful that we
do not know their names, for if we did, they would be in immediate
danger.

4. Wikileaks demonstrates that the human 'factor' is the weak spot of
networks.

The "Cablegate" release also shows the importance of having
collaborators within governmental and military institutions. If we
assume that Manning is the source of the diplomatic and military
cables---and this has not been proven yet---then we can see how
individuals within these organizations are disgusted with the conduct
of the war. This is of a piece with other projects such as Iraq
Veterans Against the War and the War Veteran's Book Project that aim
to present the personal side of the present conflicts in Iraq and
Afghanistan as a way of organizing public outrage. Do not discount the
power of solidarity with disgruntled soldiers. We only have to recall
the Abril Revolution in 1974 in Portugal, where the military supported
the peaceful transition from the Salazar dictatorship, to understand
how important it is to have military forces on one's side. Recall as
well that the main technical tool used to anonymize submissions to
WikiLeaks, Tor (The Onion Router), came out of a US Naval Research
Laboratory project to protect clandestine activities overseas. In
fact, members of the military are some of the most vocal opponents of
current attempts in the US to require person-level attribution of data
packets online.

5. WikiLeaks is a classic example of using media as a tool for
de-dehumanizing.

The actions of Anonymous on the websites of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal,
PostFinance, and others are in a lineage with the FloodNet by the
Electronic Disturbance Theater. While many mainstream media sources
see these as "attacks", others, such as the editors of The Guardian,
realize them to be "non-violent action or civil disobedience". We do
not want to discount how easy it is for the media and authorities to
misconstrue these actions as illegal denial of service attacks, as a
16-year old Dutch teenager is finding out right now, or as the EDT and
b.a.n.g. lab found out earlier this year. Nevertheless, we are seeing
a certain maturation of this technique as acceptable to others outside
of the net.art community.

Furthermore, the deliberation process of Anonymous prefigures future
forms of activist collaboration online, subject to the caveats
mentioned above. Discussions happened across a diversity of networked
media, both old and new (IRC, Twitter, Blogspot, PiratePad, etc.).
Orderly discussion under the control of a leader was not the norm, as
individuals simultaneously put forth their own suggestions to have
them edited into or out of existence. As Gabriella Coleman wrote
in her analysis of their planning, they appeared to be "seasoned
political activists", not simply "script-kiddies" as they are
described by both the mainstream media and other hacker organizations
such as 2600. Maybe there is something those of us interested in new
forms of organization can learn from these predominantly 16-24-year
olds.

6. Wikileaks suggests an understanding of a notion of networks as
media assemblages.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the recent Wikileaks phenomenon
has to do with what it portends for future networked tendencies. Given
what we stated in anti-thesis 1, we ought to pay more attention to
the movement of information outside of Internet-based networks. There
is a tendency to conflate network sharing of data with the Internet
proper, but this is not a necessary condition. Indeed, there are
multitudinous methods of arranging networks of humans and things that
do not rely on corporate or government controlled conduits for the
passage of bits. Consider, for example, the host of artistic projects
in this space just from the past couple of years: netless, Feral
Trade, deadswap, Dead Drops, Fluid Nexus, Autonet, etc. These projects
rely on assemblages of humans and infrastructure in motion. And, they
rely in part on a prior agreement among participants with respect to
protocols to follow. This is already at work in the Wikileaks project
with respect to their main members. Only they know who they are; we
are in the dark, and rightly so. This is an application of Hakim Bey's
concept of Immediatism, updated to take into account a certain mongrel
of immediate contact and networked activities.

Additionally, the projects just mentioned foreground a certain notion
of slowness that works to counteract the notions of "information
overload". If data transport relies on the motion of humans from
one location to another, this will require a particular patience,
producing a form of slowness. Nevertheless, this should not be
understood as a pastoral call as voiced by certain proponents of, for
example, the Slow Food Movement. Rather it is a way to reinvigorate
thought and practice regarding human-scale machinic assemblages. What
remains is the difficult and challenging work of producing long-term,
permanent ad-hoc networks.

Members of the Faculty of the College of Ontopoetic Machines

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